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39 Exciting Ideas for the Left

NTanya Lee and Steve Williams Jun 11, 2013

NTanya Lee and Steve Williams’ report on the state of the U.S. Left includes a catalog of suggestions (“75 Exciting Ideas for the Left”) that emerged from their interviews with grassroots organizers and activists. Here is a sampling of what they heard. For more, and for a full copy of More Than We Imagined, see www.eartothegroundproject.org.

re-orienting our work & building movement coherence

1 We need to push our demands and analysis.

We need to break out of defensive fights — picking our issues, setting the stage and following it all the way through.

We need to build power that is based on worldview and ideology, not just policies, and gets us out of silos and in a position to put out a broader set of proposals.

We need to put aside some assumptions about how social movements work. Don’t assume things are going to happen like they have in past movements.

We need to lift up conversations about race in everything we do because race is intertwined with every major social justice issue we face.

Develop a narrative about society and the economy that is compelling and resonates with people, and has a name that people can talk about and debate. People are fearful of losing their credibility but we need to address these questions.

Create spaces for organizers to develop relationships of trust and solidarity across organizations, issues, campaigns, so we can learn from each other’s experiences.

Learn to build united fronts that magnify our power.

We need some cross-pollination. People should travel through different parts of the country to gain a deeper understanding of what is happening in rural and urban areas as well as differences among the regions.

10 We need a new, nonsectarian Left that includes folks from all the trends in the past that don’t matter now. Learning from the 1970s — we have to be very careful about declaring people enemies.

11 We need to know what we should agree on:

• Understanding of and opposition to the capitalist state

• How race, gender and class have operated in the U.S.

• Key elements of our vision, including our view of the state and the role of popular democracy

• The critical importance of ecology and what it means for what we’re trying to build

• International solidarity

Movement Culture & New Political Formations

12 We have to stop being so fucking cranky. It’s important to dream. That’s why artists and youth are so important.

13 We need to focus on internal transformation. Oppression, capitalism — we are in those systems, and they are in us. So the work is at the individual, and social/structural levels.

14 Pause. Slow down. The pace we have is unsustainable. We need to get clear and focused and you can’t do that if you’re just always tired and used up.

15 We need to push against our left purifying tendencies and against obsession with process.

16 Movements for economic and racial justice have neglected feminism in terms of their internal culture. Macho behavior hurts comradeship and solidarity. We need feminist social relations.

17 We need to shed our sentimentality and identification with what currently exists. Our movement isn’t organizations, we are a web of people. We will create vehicles as necessary but we should also destroy them as necessary. Institution-building can destroy the heart and spirit that led to the creation of an organizational form.

18 We need to make a structured, strategic, organized break with the Democratic Party as the central gathering point of progressive politics in the U.S. There should be, roughly speaking, a truly mass third party, but not one specifically focused on elections, led by working class people of color.

19 We need a labor federation that includes community-based worker center organizations on an equal basis to traditional labor unions.

20 Push for a 30-hour work week – both as a mass demand for everyone, and for our sector, so people can have time to do movement work outside their paid jobs, and have time to build the kind of strong families and communities we need.

Political Education & Base-Building

21 The idea work needs to get done now, the sharp analysis, so our demands can be big enough to match the scale of the multiple crises we face. Otherwise the next upsurge could be around small demands.

22 We need to remember it’s not enough to wage solid strategic organizing campaigns. People become leftists because their consciousness shifts. That has to happen at a much broader level, in different sectors. Building people’s political consciousness is a minimal requirement for ever winning.

23 In the Black community, we need a big push on international awareness, with exchanges to Palestine, etc. Historically, our international outlook has been at a much higher level. The broader movement will not be a righteous and powerful one without progressive Black organized forces with an international, anti-imperialist perspective.

24 Become better at talking about war and militarism, and deal with why the leadership of the anti-war movement is so out of touch with working class people of color communities.

25 Send organizers out into the field. Many organizers spend their time developing a political program or going to all these meetings, and have less time to be out in the field, hearing where folks are really at.

26 Let’s look at what’s innovative about online organizing and respond to people’s new ways of thinking and relating to each other. The community organizing model has not grappled with the structural shifts in people’s consciousness related to the dramatic shifts in technology, media, speed of visual culture.

27 We need to organize strategic sectors of the white working and middle classes. The Right is organizing them around a racist set of ideas, there are millions of working people who are struggling, who are increasingly precarious and insecure, who can be won over to the Left.

28 We need to expand the movement’s attention to organizing in places where there are demographic shifts such as the South and Southwest. Combined with our centers of progressive work on the coasts, plus the Upper Midwest, we will have the basis for a new bloc.

CampaignS & Infrastructure

29 Climate justice is a unifying rallying call for people around the world. There’s an opportunity to link our local struggles and organizing with a global struggle to fight back and put forward a new vision.

30 The Keystone XL Tar Sands pipeline is a key fight, pointing a way to build large cross-sector alliances willing to engage in direct action.

31 We need to fight the right level of power: corporate power, not government, and we need to play offense by making our way up the money and power tree to who’s really in charge. Take Wal-Mart for instance, the largest private employer in the U.S. Fighting them could unite us.

32 Our base-building groups need to expand our tactics beyond run-of-the-mill, show up at city council, do a petition kind of actions. Occupy was inspiring there.

33 We need a TON more people ready to do direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience. We need to be more politically confrontational with the state, which is connected to our need to be more politically independent.

34 We need to identify ways not just to get foundations to better resource our work, but we need to more fundamentally identify ways to have democratic control of capital to finance our movements.

35 We need to build new leadership to take over our institutions. We need to strengthen how we’re developing second-tier leadership.

36 We need to become more creative about resourcing our work outside of the foundation world. Tithing 1% of our personal and organizational resources to the Left should go to work that advances cross-sectoral movement-building and Left activities, especially work that takes strategic risks and would never be funded by foundations.

37 We need to figure out how to take advantage of new technologies that make messaging and reaching people cheaper and easier.

38 We need to dramatically scale up our new media and communications capacity. We need a pipeline of people of color especially getting trained in necessary technical skills.

39 Our movements need a national press, a national organizers’ magazine where we can communicate our ideas, reflections, analysis to each other.


For more, see: 

Overcoming Fragmentation, interview of NTanya Lee by John Tarleton

Looking to Build a Larger Movement, by Steve Williams